A History of St Mary’s
There has been a centre of Christian worship on this site from at least the 13th century. Throughout the centuries it was the parish church for Putney. In the late 15th century, a shop-keeper’s son, Nicholas West, went from here to Henry VI’s new school at Eton and at the end of his life (when he was Bishop of Ely) had a chapel built here to pray for his soul. It remains in the church as the Bishop West Chapel. Later, during the Civil War, the Putney Debates were held here (see separate tab) and, after the Restoration, Samuel Pepys’ records in his diary making day trips along the river to attend Sunday service here. But as well as the famous, many many generations of unknown Putney residents, called this their spiritual home and offered worship to God. The parts of the medieval church which survive today are the tower, some of the nave arcading (mid-15th century) and the Bishop West Chapel, built in the early 16th century.
The church was substantially rebuilt in 1836. In 1973 an arson attack gutted much of the church. Rebuilding was not completed until 1982, when the church was rehallowed by the Bishop of Woolwich, on February 6.
The Invisible Revolution
The English revolution of the 17th century is almost invisible in modern London. Historian Dr. Neil Faulkner visits the site of the Putney Debates where revolutionary events took place and uncovers a story that has largely been forgotten by the British establishment.
Click on the link below to watch this documentary filmed at St Mary’s Church:
- Mid-15th century. Restored in 1845, the 1960s and again in 1982 after the fire. A record of the benefactors of the parish from 1630 onwards is inscribed on the walls of the porch. There is a modern font.
Six bells were installed between 1582 and 1674. They were recast in 1836 and two more added. These bells were recast in 1972. The fire in 1973 meant further recasting and a new peal was dedicated in 1983.
The modern organ was installed in 1982 in a gallery in front of the tower. It is the work of the Danish firm Marcussen & Son. The wall monuments under the tower and in the nave date from the early 17th century.
The Nave (North Side)
Some of the pillars and arches, including some of the angels, are medieval, but both north and south arcades were widened in the rebuilding of 1836. In the restoration of 1982, the altar and the sanctuary were moved to the north side of the church, the pews replaced with chairs, and the orientation of the church turned through 90 degrees.
This arose from a renewed emphasis on corporate worship based on the Holy Communion. It was designed to facilitate the westward-facing celebration of the Eucharist, and to permit the congregation to be seated in a semi-circular arrangement round, and in easy view of, the altar.
The altar table and the corona above it are modern, designed by Ronald G. Sims, the architect of the restoration
The sanctuary floor is paved with 17th and 18th century ledger stones. The stained glass windows, designed by Alan Younger, over the sanctuary also date from 1982.
The Bishop West Chapel
- Built at the behest of Bishop Nicholas West in the early 16th century. Note the fine vaulting of the ceiling and the two bosses with the bishop’s coat of arms. Originally on the south side of the church. Moved to its present position (in mirror version) in 1836.
To the left of the entrance are again the arms of Bishop West erected by Dr Pettiward in the late 18th century – their earlier history is unknown. On the north wall there is a recess, probably a piscina, and an opening above to take the cruets.
The aumbry and aumbry veil (the latter made by a member of the congregation) are modern, as is the screen to the south side of the chapel. There are 15th- and 16th-century Purbeck marble ledger stones set into the floors.
The Nave (East Side)
- The pillars and arches on the north and south sides are mostly of medieval material but in the 1836 rebuilding, the nave was widened. The same rebuilding extended the length of the nave eastward at the expense of the long medieval chancel. What was the 19th-century chancel and sanctuary is now the Cromwell Room.
The Nave (South Side)
The former south aisle is now sacristy, committee rooms and the parish office. On the south wall of the nave is a slate plaque commemorating the Putney Debates of 1647 (see below). This was carved by Freda Skinner, a local sculptor.
The Church Hall
Originally separate from the church, but now part of the building. Note the showcase with a collection of items dating back to medieval times, discovered by the Wandsworth Historical Society’s excavations at St Mary’s in the 1970s, before the rebuilding started.
There has been a clock in the tower since the 17th century, but the present clock is modern. The churchyard is somewhat smaller than the original. Part of it, running parallel with the river, was expropriated to build the approach way to the first bridge (wooden) across the Thames at Putney in 1729.
This portion was largely restored to the churchyard after that bridge was demolished. However, a larger portion was lost when the current stone bridge was widened and extended eastward in 19311-33.
The church across the river is All Saint’s, Fulham. It dates from about 1130, and is in a different parish and diocese.